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IRANIAN REFERENCE LIBRARIES
In ancient Iran, many libraries were established by the Zoroastrian elites and the Persian Kings. They were possibly one of the first Bibliophilists (more informally Bookworms) of the world. According to reliable documents the oldest library of Iran was possibly the Royal Library of Kohan Dej or Jay in Isfahan, which was founded during Achaemenids (550 BC?330 BC). In the north-eastern Iran there was a Royal Library in Nisa, one of the capital cities of Persian Empire during the Parthian Dynasty (248 BC-224 AD). Nisa is now one of the historical places in present day Republic of Turkmenistan. In the south-western Iran, the most important medical library was the Library of Jundishapur (aka Gundishapur), which was established during Sassanid Era (224 AD-651 AD). All those Royal Libraries were in fact some sorts of the present-day Reference Libraries. A reference library refers to a place for looking at a collection of books that must be read only where they are kept and not taken away.
In this article, the most important aspects of the First Iranian Reference Libraries established during Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sassanid Dynasties are studied and discussed.
ACHAEMENID ERA (550 BC?330 BC)
Achaemenids made Babylon one of their major capitals and extensively used the texts at the temple libraries. The library and museum at the Persepolis were built to rival the Babylonian archives famous in the ancient world. It is reported by scholars Homayoonfarrokh and Price that Darius the Great (521 BC ? 486 BC) in one occasion ordered his representative to return to Egypt in order to restore a department dealing with medicine. (Homayoonfarrokh and Price refer to this representative as Ozaharrisniti and Udjahorresne respectively). "At the time his majesty was in Elam, he ordered me (the representative) to return to Egypt. I gave them every useful thing and all their instruments indicated by the writings, as they had been before. His majesty did this because he knew the virtue of this art to make every sick man recover", quoted the representative.
Achaemenids also established large scale libraries in various cities in ancient Iran. The libraries founded in Susa, Persepolis, Pasargadae, Ecbatana (modern Hamadan), and Isfahan are only a few examples of those establishments that have been all regrettably destroyed by Greek Alexander and Arab invaders later on.
Royal Library of Kohan Dej or Jay in Isfahan (in Persian: Ketabkaneh-e-Jay-e Isfahan), aka Sarouyeh, was one of the famous large libraries in ancient Iran. The library was located near where the city of Isfahan is today. It has been documented by some researchers that the Library of Kohan Dej was firstly founded by Tahmuras who was the third legendary King of World after Kayumars and Hushang, and before Jamshid. The reference book of the History of Isfahan and Ray (in Persian: Taarikh-e-Isfahan va Ray) edited by Hassan Jaber Ansari and printed by Abbas Eghbal Ashtiani, gives details of that historical library of Isfahan and the list of books and documents it contained. Abbas Milani refered to the fortified collection of writings and documents kept in the historical library of Isfahan and wrote that, "Though only a few pages of its vast holdings have survived, we know of its grandeur through the testimony of its contemporaries, who compared it, in terms of the awe it inspired, to the Egyptian pyramids".
PARTHIAN ERA (248 BC-224 AD)
The Chinese explorer Zhang Qian, who visited Nisa in 126 BC, made the first known Chinese report on Parthian Kingdom. According to the book of Records of the Grand Historian, Zhang Qian clearly identified Parthia as an advanced urban civilization and wrote that, "The people are settled on the land, cultivating the fields and growing rice and wheat. The coins of the country are made of silver and bear the face of the king. The people keep records by writing on horizontal strips of leather". Homayonfarrokh wrote that, "In Parthia, people kept records of political and economic events in the books written on the rawhide, the skin of cattle".
According to the Denkard, a semi-religious work written in the 9th century, the Parthian king Volgaash, aka Vologases IV (147 BC-191 BC), collected the sacred texts of Avesta and kept the texts in his palace library.
SASSANID ERA (224 AD-651 AD)
Khosrow Anoshirvan is mentioned by many historians and biographers to have been a major promoter of science, philosophy, and medicine. In the Book of the Deeds of Ardashir son of Babag (in Persian: Karnamag-e Ardeshir-e Papagan), Khosrow Anushiravan has been quoted as, "We have made inquiries about the rules of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire and the Indian states. We have never rejected anybody because of their different religion or origin. We have not jealously kept away from them what we affirm. And at the same time we have not disdained to learn what they stand for. We should not forget the fact that to acquire knowledge of the truth and sciences are the most important aspects of life by which a king can adorn himself. And the most disgraceful thing for kings is to disdain learning and be ashamed of exploring the sciences. He who does not learn is not wise".
Khosrow Anoshirvan also established a Royal Library, aka Imperial Library, in his palace. The later Muslim historians refer to the Sassanian Imperial library as the House of Knowledge (in Persian: Daaneshgaah, in Arabic: Bayt-al-Hekmat). According to Price, the library functioned as a site where accounts of Iranian history and literature were transcribed and preserved. At the same time it was a place where qualified hired translators, bookbinders and others worked to preserve, purchase, copy, illustrate, write and translate books.
Read More on the Libraries in Iran: http://www.ichodoc.ir/p-a/CHANGED/44/html/44-16.htm#_ednref1